I was once a billionaire.

It lasted five minutes, and it was awesome.

I like to think that I’m not a gullible guy. In fact, I’m usually the guy who makes other people feel stupid for being gullible. But in 2008 I was in London, and it was cold, and my girlfriend had just dumped me, and I was unemployed, and I was drinking a lot of beer, and I was running out of money quickly, due mainly to the fact that a pint of barely-carbonated ale in London costs the equivalent of a bottle of Blue Label back home, after the dreaded pounds to rand conversion.

I needed a pick me up. Which is why, when I received an email saying that I had won a billion pounds in the UK lottery, the part of my brain that should have patiently explained ‘but Daniel, you didn’t even enter the UK lottery’ was briefly disabled. I ran through the streets screaming, aptly enough, like I’d just won the lottery. I stubbed my toe on a lamppost hard but barely felt the pain. Until five minutes later, when the adrenalin wore off and my brain was finally able to summon enough reason to convey the message that I had been tricked. Then I felt the pain.

I think there’s a part of all of us that wants to believe it’s possible to get rich, quickly, with minimal effort. Conventional wisdom says that it is impossible to do this, except for the way that the majority of rich people become rich, which is to be born with rich parents. There is no better get rich scheme than that. If you made the mistake of being born to non-rich parents, though, getting rich is, frankly, a mission, especially because of the old economic adage that you need money to make money, which is a bit of a drag, because if you had money you really wouldn’t need money as much.

The truth is that get rich quick schemes can make you rich, but only provided you are the person who came up with the get rich quick scheme. Email scams, for example, may be far-fetched enough for 99.9 percent of their recipients to realise that they’re being scammed, but if you send the scam to enough people, that extremely gullible .1 percent who do fall for it will be enough to make the whole endeavour economically viable.

This premise works no matter what the scam is, whether the outcome you’re looking for is just for an idiot like me to respond to your email for data mining purposes or for someone to deposit large sums of money into your bank account in the misguided hope that they will get much more than that amount back (yes, this is what we call a 419 scam).

Whether starting a get rich scheme will make you rich or not depends largely on the strength of the scheme. Starting a 419 scam or tricking people into replying to your email may seem like more effort than it’s worth. But on the other side of the spectrum, people like Bernie Madoff have used the Ponzi scheme model to great effect, and have managed to rake in tons of cash … before getting sent to jail (there’s a downside to everything). Some, like the unfortunate individuals behind multi-level marketing schemes such as Amway, are even able to pull off their schemes so successfully that they can’t be arrested for it. But even running one of these companies is more a full-time job than a ticket to instant riches.

The only genuine way to make a lot of money with very little effort I can think of is to post a monetised YouTube video of your cat that somehow goes viral and gets 10 million views. But for every person who somehow manages to do this there are 1000 times more sitting around, wondering why their clip of Snowball chasing a ball of wool has only been seen by ten people.

The moral of the story is that one’s economic fate cannot simply be left up to the YouTube gods. It seems trite even mentioning this, but there is no easy way to get rich. Getting rich takes skill, a great work ethic and lots of patience. This sounds like the kind of advice someone like Warren Buffet should be dispensing, as opposed to a musical comedian who isn’t even rich himself, mainly due to having insufficient amounts of the three qualities he himself has just listed.

But while I can’t guarantee that my work, which mainly entails taking pop songs and changing the lyrics to be about South African politics, will ever get me into Forbes, I can guarantee that I will, at least, try my best to stop looking for wealth in all the wrong places.

I know for certain that If I ever do get rich, it will not be due to the generosity of a nice man from Nigeria who is willing to hand over a ton of cash to express his gratitude for me helping him claim his late, rich uncle’s fortune.

It will be through hard work and perseverance. Or a YouTube cat video. Whichever comes first.

Photo by: torbakhopper, somebody’s getting richer via Flickr, CC BY 2.0.